Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill echoes President Trump on mail-in voting, but absentee voting rules expanded for July runoff

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — President Donald Trump threatened to cut federal funding to states that expand mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

He complained over the weekend about mail-in voting making it easier to commit vote fraud.   

The president, who has switched his formal residence to Florida, voted by mail for the Florida primary. But the president is flatly against an expansion of that option amid the current pandemic.

The president did find a sympathetic ear Sunday for his concerns in Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

Judging by the exchange between the President and Merrill, it doesn’t look like Alabama will be expanding to mail-in voting any time soon.

State law would have to change, which requires the legislature, and that body is done with its regular session.

But Alabama is making some allowances for mail-in votes during the pandemic. Under the Governor’s declared state of emergency, Merrill decided — if someone is uncomfortable going to the polls for the July 14 Republican U.S. Senate runoff — they can vote absentee.

A voter needs a valid excuse in Alabama to vote absentee, whether it’s a work schedule conflict, health reasons or you’ll be out of state.

But given the state of emergency declared by the governor due to the pandemic, Merrill said Alabama voters can check the box that says “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls.”  

Residents have until June 29 to register to vote in the July 14 runoff. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is July 9 and the last day to postmark or hand-deliver an absentee ballot is July 13.

Alabama is now averaging more than 300 new COVID-19 cases a day, but Merrill is not committing to allowing the same excuse for the November election, which will include President Trump on the ballot.

“Well it’s difficult to say at this particular time,” Merrill told WHNT News 19. “We want to believe that things will return to some semblance of order. If not we’ll address that when it’s appropriate.”

The ACLU of Alabama argues that Alabama needs a no-excuse absentee ballot. Which doesn’t require, as the current process does, a copied ID, and the signature of two witnesses or a notary.

The group issued a statement following the email exchange between President Trump and Secretary Merrill.

“Alabama should make every effort to make voting easier and more accessible. Mail-in voting should be considered on a nation-wide basis, but it will take federal action to make that a possibility.

“In these uncertain times – especially when Alabama is seeing more COVID-19 infections, not fewer – it is vital that Alabamians have the option to use absentee ballots if they are concerned about voting in person. In short, there should be a “no-excuse” absentee ballot access that can be easily utilized by voters without onerous requirements for a copy of an ID, witnesses, or a notarized signature.

“Whether and how one votes is a deeply personal and private matter. Those voters who choose to vote in-person on election day must be able to do so in a safe, fair, and equal manner. That means no Alabamian should have to stand in line for hours to vote, especially if a voting district cannot assure proper access to and compliance with CDC recommended precautions. Poll workers and voters should be able to rest assured that they are protected from potentially getting or spreading COVID-19 as they engage in the democratic process.

“Finally, every Alabamian should be confident that irrespective of how they vote, their vote will be counted.”

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